A Grand Declaration of War… Against Mayhem
The following is the first installment in a series called Shots Fired, where the Slime and Grime crew commit acts of metal sacrilege, present the hottest of hot takes, and blaspheme the writ of metal doctrine to get the reader thinking, or maybe just do a little “triggering” like any good edgelord should.
As far as I am concerned there are only two live black metal recordings that I would label as “classic:” Emperial Live Ceremony by Emperor and Live in Leipzig by Mayhem. If I were to make a top ten list of 2nd wave of black metal/Norwegian black metal albums that I would deem as mandatory listening, Mayhem’s seminal album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas would absolutely be on that list. One of my fondest metal memories was seeing Mayhem perform live in St. Paul, Minnesota in support of their Grand Declaration of War album back in the year 2000 or so. So why do I feel the need to shit all over these black metal legends? Well let me tell you, I have my reasons, and they’re hard to argue with if you ask me.
Let’s deconstruct all my previous points in defense of Mayhem as a legendary black metal act who is indispensable to the genre’s history. First, Live in Leipzig is a classic live album. Not only is it a classic for the genre of black metal, not only it is a classic as live metal albums of all genres go, but it is a classic live album period. Live albums with immense commercial success like Kiss Alive! or Frampton Comes Alive can’t touch the raw honesty of Live in Leipzig. Live metal compilations like Pantera: Live 101% Proof or Slayer’s Decade of Aggression can’t touch the chilling misanthropy of this album. It is simply a masterpiece. So what’s wrong with it? Well the fact that lead vocalist Dead is… dead. We all know the back story behind his emotional and psychological disorders that lead to his suicide, so upon retrospect, Per Yngve Ohlin having taken his own life seems to have been inevitable. Mayhem losing their charismatic and enigmatic front man Dead really is the first nail in the coffin. After his suicide, the band would never again craft songs as dark and disturbing as they did as when he was alive.
Second, there is the classic album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Most of the songs were written by the classic line-up that included Dead, Euronymous, and Hellhammer. Whether or not Varg “Count Grishnach” Vikerness had any input into the song crafting process which lead to the creation of this black metal opus is up for debate, mostly from Varg himself. Each track on this album is iconic and infinitely influential. It also has the unfortunate distinction of having Attila Csihar recording all the vocals, as Dead had killed himself before he could record them. Attila’s vocal styling is (presumably) unintentionally comedic, as also evidenced by his work with the kings of cringe Aborym. When it comes to black metal buffoonery, Attila occupies a unique tier with the likes of Varg Vikerness, Dani Filth, and Nattramn of Silencer fame. Don’t get me wrong, all of these vocalists have been involved in projects that are absolutely worth listening to, but still, after the decades that have passed since hearing my first black metal album (Emperor’s In The Nightside Eclipse) and subsequently diving headfirst into the genre, never looking back, I can’t help but chuckle when I hear Attila’s vocals. He sounds like one of Jim Henson’s Muppets.
Third, let’s talk about my experience seeing Mayhem live in St. Paul, Minnesota almost 20 years ago. It was, as I recall, my first “real” extreme metal show. I’m pretty sure I saw Morbid Angel open for Pantera and Soulfly in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, before this show, but every band on the bill was tr00 and kvlt. To be quite honest, with the exception of the amazing Mexican death metalers The Chasm, I can’t recall the openers, because I’m pretty sure they were all Twin Cities locals (which had an incredible underground metal scene in the late 1990s to early 2000s, my personal favorite being Anal Blast – more on them in a bit) who I never really followed up on, but there were five bands in total including Mayhem. I was treated to some of the truest metal I have ever seen in person, devoid of the rock star shenanigans I had become accustomed to seeing bands like Pantera, Anthrax, and Ozzy Osbourne previously. Yes, this was very early in my live metal life. Battle vests, beer, and blasphemy were the all on the menu in mass quantities and I was in heaven. I remember being extremely excited to see Mayhem and then being somewhat let down by what appeared to be a phoned-in live performance. The challenges the band faced may have been weighing on them. Securing visas to tour the states had posed problematic for the band, and their vocalist at the time, Maniac, was suffering from a broken arm preventing the band from bringing their best. Unfortunately, Mayhem not being all they were cracked up to be live has always stuck with me.
Now, I know I said that this show was one of my fondest metal memories, and it certainly was, largely thanks to the hospitality and debauchery of Anal Blast vocalist Don Decker. Back in those days, Decker owned a label/record store in Minneapolis called Nightfall Records, which I paid a visit to before the show. It really was a stateside Helvete (Euronymous’s legendary record shop/flop house), as it was a hub for extreme metal not only in the Twin Cities but for the entire lower 48. The first floor was a quaint record shop, pulsing with extreme metal being blared by Decker on his stereo system, and the upper floor was a vomit and urine soaked squatter’s apartment which hosted DIY shows and after parties. It was in Nightfall Records where Don proudly showed me Satyricon’s Nemesis Divina album and was all giddy at the sound of a sword being drawn on opening track “The Dawn of a New Age”.
After Mayhem’s performance in St. Paul, we sped down the highway, following a local we met at the show at breakneck speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour, to the after party in the upper level of Nightfall Records. Mayhem bassist Necrobutcher and drummer Hellhemmer made appearances, as did all the members of The Chasm. Beer and weed were consumed in mass quantities and a great time was had by all, despite Necrobutcher being a sloppy, obnoxious drunk. Which brings me to the next portion of this hit piece – and I’ll gladly call it that – where I just shit on Mayhem. No more steelmanning this band, no more weighing pros and cons. The fact of the matter is, Mayhem fucking sucks.
Anyway, as I was saying: Necrobutcher. The dude is a piss dripping soak, and a fucking sad and pathetic alcoholic. The irony that he fired vocalist Maniac from Mayhem for being an alcoholic is not lost on me or anyone who has ever met the man or heard him attempt to speak. One simply has to watch the train wreck of an interview with Sam Dunn in his film Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey to see further evidence of Necrobutcher’s problem with holding his liquor. And when I met him in St. Paul all those years ago seated on a couch so filthy that it had to have been a health hazard, it was like that interview only turned up to a Spinal Tap-esque 11. Necrobutcher’s drunken rants are actually quite funny, but the hypocrisy of him firing Maniac for drinking too much doesn’t sit well with me.
And that’s what’s really bothersome about Mayhem: they’re half-assed and fence sitting performance, not only as artists, but on all social facets from behavioral to political. Mayhem is infamous for using white nationalist imagery in their artwork, primarily on merchandise. When I saw them in St. Paul their U.S. tour shirt featured Ol’ Dixie, the stars and bars. They have used the Nazi totenkompf and Reichskriegsflagge emblems as well. Now obviously, draping one’s self in bigoted symbols is bad for reasons anyone who understands history should be simple to grasp. But Mayhem doesn’t even have the courage or conviction to be actual neo-Nazis. They have, in so many words, just explained the use of these symbols because they think evil is cool and the Nazis were evil so their symbols were cool. At least former bassist and Burzum mastermind Varg Vikernes has the balls to come out and say that he is a literal Nazi.
The questionable ethics around the incidents that involved how Dead’s body was treated by the band after his suicide and the murder of Euronymous (there are no good guys in this incident, even Necrobutcher bragged about planning to kill him) not withstanding, the greatest sin that Mayhem commits in this writer’s opinion is their catalog. With the exception of the songs composed during the original line up, Mayhem’s music is forgettable, banal, bromidic, platitudinous drivel, evoking the atmosphere of rubber bats and plastic spiders at Halloween. As the years have worn on, Mayhem has attempted to experiment artistically, with mixed effects. Some listeners find the spoken word ranting performed by Maniac on the aforementioned Grand Declaration of War album to be engrossing, but to me it just sounds like a monologue from a Charlton Heston film interspersed by high pitched squawks. Maniac’s vocal style of croaks and screeches has always been an acquired taste. Even as Mayhem has “progressed,” they have still remained about as exciting to listen to as the minutes from a City Council meeting for a mid-sized Iowa farm town.
Oh yeah, there are also Hellhammer’s comments on Emperor drummer Faust’s murder of Magne Andreassen, a gay man he lead on. I won’t repeat Hellhammer’s comments here, but let’s just say it was laden with homophobic slurs, which he thought it was hilarious. But moral grandstanding is not the point of this editorial. I still highly recommend the Live in Leipzig and De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas albums, I actually do enjoy Hellhammer’s work as he has contributed his drumming talents to many great projects, from Dimmu Borgir to Kovenant, and I recognize that Mayhem’s place in metal history is indispensable. But that’s all I can concede. Mayhem is a washed up, ridiculous, unintentional parody of the heavy metal aesthetic, whose compositions are about as engrossing as an AM talk radio show about coin collecting.